There’s a interesting study in the February issue of JASIST about which elements are most important for determining credibility of news stories on automated news aggregator pages, like Google News.  Though the findings might be obvious (there’s nothing wrong with stating the obvious), the researchers point to three elements that are most important on such automatically created pages:
- The name of primary source from which the headline and lead were borrowed
- The time elapsed since the story broke
- The number of related articles written on the topic of the story
The researchers write: “…The findings from this study demonstrate that information scent is not simply restricted to the actual text of the news lead or headline in a news aggregating service. Automatically generated cues revealing the pedigree of the hyperlinked information carry their own information scent. Furthermore, these cues appear to be psychologically significant and therefore worthy of design attention. Systems that emphasize such cues in their interfaces are likely to aid information foraging, especially under situations where the user is unlikely to be highly task-motivated and therefore prone toward heuristically based judgments of information relevance. Navigational tools that highlight these cues are likely to be more effective in directing user traffic, as evidenced by early research on newspaper design (which highlighted the attention-getting potential of placement, layout, and color) and screen design (focusing primarily on typography and color…Finally, visualization efforts should focus on attracting user attention towards-and making explicit the value of-proximal cues instead of simply concentrating on visualizing the underlying information.”
This means to me that–even though the pages are automatically generated–there is still information architecture and information design that is critical to understanding and experience the information. Maybe machines won’t replace designers and there is a place for professions like IA in the future after all. Hmm…
 Sundar, S. Shyam, Silvia Knoblock-Westerwick, Matthias R. Hastall. News Cues: Information Scent and Cognitive Heuristics. JASIST 58(3): 366-378, 2007.
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